Creating Family Peace

Joseph serves as a model of creating opportunities for repentance and forgiveness.

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[The] Ramban and others (including the famous novelist Thomas Mann in his Joseph and His Brothers) conclude that Joseph acted in accordance with the path marked out for him by Providence in his dreams. He did not feel himself free to do as he liked but considered that he was destined to play the part of savior and leader of his family. This had been the significance of the dream… (Nehama Leibowitz in Studies in Bereshit Genesis, Jerusalem: Alpha Press, 1981).

Some of our Sages hold that Joseph's repeated accusations were intended to confuse his brothers. Surely they must have known of the extraordinary fact that "a young Hebrew slave" had become viceroy of the country. Joseph might therefore have been afraid that they would recognize him as their brother. But by directing violent accusations against them, he reduced such speculation to naught and from then on was able to carry out the plan he had concerning his brothers (R. Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, Mesorah Publications, 1994).

The purpose of Joseph's elaborate ruse is not to torment or embarrass his brothers but to see whether they indeed had changed. Repentance [t'shuvah] is more than regret. It includes finding oneself in a similar situation and responding differently. Joseph needs to know whether the brothers will leave Simeon and/or Benjamin to languish in prison, as they once had abandoned him (David Lieber, Etz Hayim, The Jewish Publication Society, 2001).

[Joseph] was inclined to make himself known to them as their brother, but an angel appeared unto him, the same that had brought him from Shechem to his brethren at Dothan, and spoke, saying, "These came hither with intent to kill thee" (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, The Jewish Publication Society, 1969, vol. II, p. 82).

Am I my brother's keeper (Genesis 4:9)?

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity (Psalms 133:1).

Your Guide

Which text best explains Joseph's initial treatment of his brothers? Why?

If you accept the Ramban's explanation as cited by Nehama Leibowitz, do you think that Joseph could have devised a different plan that would have yielded the same results without tormenting his brothers? Please describe it.

By citing the angel's reappearance to Joseph in Egypt, what is Ginzberg suggesting?

What do the sibling relationships in the text teach us about familial relationships?

D'var Torah

Although God is in control of life and death, we determine how we will relate to one another. Joseph's initial meeting with his brothers might suggest that he was punishing them for their previous actions. Joseph's challenge was to determine how to reunite the family, thus enabling all its members to continue serving God together. Joseph had to create a situation that would bond the family both physically and spiritually.

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Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum

Bruce Greenbaum is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley, CA.